Isnin, Januari 17, 2005

NGOs: Water privatisation will punish the poor

Nurul Nazirin
While the Malaysian parliament will convene a special three-day sitting on Monday to debate transfer of power for supply, treatment, distribution and billing of water supply, an Indonesian court has been preoccupied with similar issues.

In both countries, non-governmental organisations are rallying against the proposal which, they claim, will burden those unable to pay for privatised water supply.

Malaysian economist Charles Santiago (left), said he testified against the privatisation of water resources in a case before the Judicial Review Act 7, 2004, at the Constitutional Court in Jakarta last Wednesday.

The case was filed by 17 civil society groups led by environmental group Wahana Linkungan Hidup Indonesia, to challenge the government’s move to privatise the supply of water.

They argued that the main role of the constitution and the government is to protect the welfare of the people and that water privatisation is contrary to this notion.

“If the role and objective of the Constitution is to safeguard and fulfill the needs and rights of Indonesians, the move should not take place,” he said in an interview in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

He said the Malaysian government’s proposal to centralise power on water management and supply, as part of its move to privatise the process, raises similar issues in respect of public interest.

“Access to water must be identified primarily as a public good and a human right. The state has an important obligation in ensuring that the country’s water resources remain in the hands of the public sector,” he said.

On Saturday, Santiago will be among speakers at a public consultation in Kuala Lumpur, on human and religious rights affected by water privatisation. Organised by Research for Social Advancement, it will discuss the impact of water liberalisation for consumers.

Details crucial

Santiago urged the government to be transparent in its tender process, and to give out details on the terms and rates set out in the contract.

“My concern is that clean water reaches everyone, (including) the poor and vulnerable groups. This may not happen if supply is privatised ... water can only go to people who can pay,” he said.

“If supply is disconnected because they can’t afford to pay the bills, then it would constitute a deprivation of human rights. Water is a gift from God ... this basic human need should not be trampled upon.”

He also said it is essential that the government provides for the fundamental needs of the people, regardless of race, religion and socio-economic status.

The government’s rationale for centralising power for management and supply of water stems from the inability of state governments to pay for replacement of old and broken pipes. This has led to deterioration of supply and complaints about murky water from taps.

However, Santiago suggested that the Penang water system should be adopted by other states, as this has been shown to work and reportedly minimises opportunities for corruption and abuse of power.

The system used in Penang allows the water concessionaire to focus on core responsibilities and commitments in balancing profitability with public interest.

The management and staff of Pulau Pinang Perbadanan Air are strongly committed to administrative excellence and public service, as well as a commercial outlook, Santiago noted, adding that the body operates without political interference into its operations and policies.

“If (water authorities) follow the Penang model, they can’t turn some people into millionaires,” he added.

“Penang is successful ... the company is making profits because of cost reduction and enhanced revenue efficiency.”

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